The most powerful moment in my life?
A few things come to mind; my car accident in Pennsauken NJ, my first solo in a sailplane, getting mugged in New York, and an argument I once had with my Dad. But the moment I’ll choose happened in the delivery room of the CMC hospital in Manchester, NH.
The birth of my first child was a defining moment in my life. It was a new role for me, as “Dad,” and a role that I needed to play very well. It was commitment, responsibility, a passage, and a milestone all wrapped into a moment. The moment’s shadow was the risk. An unspoken, unspeakable “what if” hung in the air.
Her labor was hard, and long. The delivery room was cold and impersonal with beeping monitors, antiseptic smells, and the constant interruption of nurses with thermometers, speculums, and other invasive devices. The birth was two weeks overdue and the doctor was beginning to get concerned. I’d driven her to the hospital three times in the past two weeks with what was determined to be “false labor.” I knew that something was wrong. Words like “induced labor” and “C-section” were whispered in the background.
Finally, it began. Nurses were scurrying. The doctor was focused, calmly giving commands. My wife painfully squeezed my hand as her face reddened with the agony. Somebody said, “It’s coming, now.” I looked from her face, contorted with pain, down between her legs. There was something there. It was just the top of the head. It was wet, crumpled, and red. It looked like an exposed brain. There was something wrong. I thought of friend who fathered a retarded child and spent his life and everything he earned caring for him. I remember the look of shame in my friend’s eyes as he apologized for his teenaged son who had drooled on my hand while shaking it. In school there was a child who was said to ‘have problems.’ He would watch, aching from the sidelines, as the rest of us played and laughed at recess. I thought of people in wheelchairs, challenged to the core of their courage by steps I climb unseeing. I thought of helpless children left in institutions to be raised by people who could somehow bear the sight of their pain. My legacy to the universe would carry my warped gene that would make him and his children shunned forever. My life, and my child’s life was ruined. I had failed in the most basic of human activities; reproduction.
Then I imagined a child with an oversized head, slanted eyes, and lopsided grin coming to me for love and direction. There was a beauty in his difference, in his uniqueness. His treasure was buried a little deeper.Yes, I could give him the love and I could perceive him to be the most beautiful being there is. I could treasure him but with such sadness that so few others would. I looked at my wife. Did she know? I opened my mouth to say something, she screamed. I looked at her face. There was agony, but there was bliss. A primal light surrounded her face. Suddenly, it dawned on me that everything was OK. I looked down again. Now there was a face between her legs, and it was beautiful. Joshua, in the first miraculous act of his life, squirted out into the doctor’s waiting hands, gushing out amidst primordial blood, fluid, and slime. I cried in awe, relief, and joy.